Marketing a brand on social media is necessary, but it can feel like walking on a razor’s edge. Business owners who treat social media automation with a “set it and forget it” mindset often create PR disasters.
A few years ago, American Airlines made this mistake. Whenever someone tweeted any message to the airline company, they would receive a canned positive response. Users discovered this, and berated the company. The American Airlines account automatically, joyfully responded to the abuse. The result? The company got lot of bad press and looked incompetent.
Fostering good relationships with customers can lead to an exponential growth in brand awareness. On the other hand, one slip-up can turn a company into a laughing stock.
Since managing social media can be time consuming, several options and tools for automation have been developed. Ideally, these tools can be used to optimize customer engagement. However, automation in lieu of human interaction makes the possibility of a mistake much more likely. Without oversight, automated interactions could be sending out the wrong message. What is the right way to use automation in marketing on social media?
Social Media: The Foundation of Inbound Marketing
Inbound marketing involves promoting a company by attracting customers to the business. Social media should be the focus of any inbound marketing campaign. However, maintaining a social media account requires time and resources that can be hard to justify for some business owners. Is it worth the hassle?
Absolutely; business owners in every market realize how effective inbound marketing can be. Even businesses that cater to consumers who traditionally do not use social media are inviting customers to engage with their brand online. For example, one charter boat rental company encourages customers to fish and submit photos of their best catches for a chance to be featured on their “Catch of the Day” page. Another business that sells hunting rifles has a similar “Shot of the Day” page. These examples illustrate that there is no excuse for business owners to not engage customers.
Creating Brand Advocates
By inviting customers to engage with the business online, one can create brand advocates that extend a brand’s reach and visibility. Each time a customer shares or comments on a piece of content, the customer’s followers see that interaction. These engaged customers spread the good word about the brand to their followers, who may also decide to share the message. The chain can continue for quite a while.
In a sense, each customer that interacts with a brand also advocates for the product or service by spreading brand awareness. Any brand would seek to generate this sort of buzz. The key to developing this sort of relationship with customers is by paying close attention to their needs and desires.
So does automation — getting rid of the need to micromanage social media accounts — contradict these principles? Not necessarily, but things do frequently go wrong.
Automation Gone Wrong
First, let’s examine how automation on social media can go wrong. Automation allows us to eliminate much of the time required to maintain social media accounts, but it can backfire. How can business owners effectively use automation in social media in their inbound marketing campaigns? Most automation in social media is poorly implemented, and usually does not encourage engagement. It is possible to automate interactions with customers effectively — but automated messages only work in specific contexts, and only if they are written in an open-ended fashion.
Automation is not intended to replace the need to manage social media accounts. The American Airlines marketing faux pas occurred because the social media manager relied too heavily on it.
Another big mistakes one can make in social media automation is trying to evoke an emotional reaction from the audience. There is a strange, jarring feeling when encountering an automated message trying to interact with you through an emotional appeal. This feeling is known as peering into the uncanny valley. For example, author Augie Ray explained how he felt when a virtual trainer in an online training program stated “I’m proud of you.” He noted that his “reaction was profoundly negative… (and that) this pre-programmed, artificial being has no ability to feel anything, much less pride.” The emotional appeal failed because it was obviously insincere. It only served to alienate the end-user.
The Proper Use of Automation
Let’s discuss the proper way to thank a customer for a like or follow: A template message frequently spotted on Twitter is the auto-thank. It is generally hated. The phrase “Thank you for following me” is not a genuine expression of gratitude when it is automated, nor does it inspire engagement. It is merely off-putting. Promoting a new product or service in an auto-thank is an even worse offence, and sometimes spurs customers into immediately unfollowing.
The main purpose of an auto-thank should be to get the customer involved in the brand. The easiest way to do so is to include an open-ended question in the automated message. Thank them, and then pose a question. For customers who respond to this prompt, they should have a discussion with a real customer service representative or businesses owner. The key is to use automation to invite customer interactions, and then to follow through with a live response.
How often you post and what you post can determine the success of social media marketing. Another method of automating social media activity is by scheduling posts. It is known that the average half-life for a link is about three hours. It is not unreasonable, then, to schedule a post every three hours.
When choosing what content to schedule, effective accounts share a variety of content with followers. This content can be selected to be posted ahead of time, but select content wisely. The best practice, according to social media gurus, is to follow the 5:3:2 rule. This rule states that, for every ten updates posted:
- Five should be relevant content from others
- Three should be original relevant content from yourself
- Two should be personal, non-work related content
Following this strategy demonstrates to the community that the brand is passionate and willing to engage in discussions about matters important to the audience. It also humanizes the brand. Discover good content from others to share by researching hashtags related to customers’ needs. Personal content should be wholesome and elicit an emotional response from the audience. Funny or cute articles/videos serve this purpose well.
It is key to optimize automated messages through personalization. The correct way to personalize automation is to address the audience’s interests and needs. As Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, said: “If people believe they share values with a company, they will stay loyal to the brand.” But there is a delicate balance to personalization. Overly general messages risk looking like a template. Hyperspecific messages will not appeal to many customers.
Smart marketers create “groups” of customers, looking at trends and demographics. Examples are “new parents” or “college students”. Using data on purchasing habits, companies can determine which group each customer belongs to. They can then customize automated messages to appeal to the sensibilities of these groups. While these messages will not resonate with every member of each group, they have a statistically higher chance of provoking engagement.
Following these guidelines can improve the chances of succeeding in your social media marketing campaign. Through an endless parade of social media blunders, internet users are becoming more educated on how to use social media properly. Automation cannot replace the need the time and effort of a real person, but it can certainly help ease the burden. As more new tools become available, remember to be wise about how you use them.